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Students promote Wikipedia

February 15, 2010

There’s a new club at McGill University, “Students Supporting Wikipedia,” whose members will contribute to the online encyclopedia. This first-of-its-kind club also hopes to run a trivia contest and other events to raise money for the Wikimedia Foundation (it does not accept ads and depends entirely on private donations).

This may sound like a rather nerdy club to some readers, but I think they have the right idea. Students who edit a Wikipedia article learn what’s behind a resource they take for granted. They find out it’s not as simple as writing whatever you want:

  • Topics must be “notable”
  • Articles need sources that verify their contents
  • Images may only be used with permission
  • Articles follow a specific structure

Flickr photo by quartermane

The goal of promoting student -and faculty- understanding of Wikipedia is excellent. I’m not sure the club idea would work everywhere; how about a special event instead? The library could sponsor a Wikipedia Fair where teams of students would write new articles or edit existing ones. Language majors might translate articles and librarians would help find sources. Motivation would come in the form of food, t-shirts and prizes. The fair might be run early in the semester, with a special appeal issued to freshmen.

Students at other universities have tried different strategies. Prof. Holly Shields’ class “Art Direction 2” at Texas State created a series of designs called “I [edit] wikipedia”, depicting everyday people as experts on a specific subject (the photo at right links to a larger set of images).

Faculty complain a great deal about student misuse of Wikipedia. Why not do what we can instead to help them understand what it’s really about?

To learn more about the club, see Students at McGill U. Band Together to Promote Wikipedia or read the article in the McGill Tribune. To learn about editing Wikipedia read “Wikipedia: Your first article” or “Wikipedia: How to edit a page.” You can also read about the student design project.

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